Increase in ‘sexually aggressive’ behaviour by youth, forum told

Use of phone and online content cited as exchange of data made easy by technology

There has been a noticeable increase in sexually aggressive behaviour through young people’s use of phone and online content, a conference heard at the weekend.

Ethel Quayle, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh, said that while of concern, society had to be careful not to view practices such as "sexting" as out of proportion.

This relatively new practice typically involves people exchanging sexual images of themselves.

Dr Quayle was addressing a conference, Dealing with Cyber-bullying , at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dublin.


The “sexting” phenomenon, and general “peer to peer” exchange of material, has been facilitated by advances in technology.

“The reality is that there appears to be an increase in sexually aggressive behaviour by young people toward other young people,” she said.

“The typical stereotype of men in raincoats doesn’t hold. A lot of aggressive online behaviour is [between] young people.”

She said not all children, clearly, are likely to be vulnerable to harm but there are some concerns over sexting as a repetitive activity.

“Those who experience harm are likely to be female or young or have a pre-existing condition such as depression.

Cyber arena

“There is an overall increase in the amount of non-contact sexual behaviour and a lot of it is sitting in this cyber arena.”

A variety of speakers addressed cyberbullying and the wider context of children and technology. The conference was primarily attended by teachers but also attracted professionals from the tech sector.

David Allen, a solicitor specialising in free speech, said society needed to ask itself whether it wants to see children criminalised for abusing social media. Introducing legislation to cover online behaviour could be a retrograde step as traditional laws already apply, he said.

“There is no need to regulate social media within the law. Primarily, I would like to see education.”

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter would be constitutionally protected as a conduit of free speech, he said, and added that while there was an option to prosecute users for harassment, this raised its own questions.

“The implications we are talking about here is criminal records for kids . . . is this something you want to see for your kids?”

Prof Mona O'Moore from the Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Trinity College Dublin gave an overview of guidelines on preventing cyberbullying in school.


"They [children] need to learn more about how to stay safe, how to reduce the risks. But don't overestimate what [children] know just because we are the [technological] immigrants and they are the natives," she said.

There is a 75 per cent crossover of those being targeted online and in real life.

Crucially, the stigma of “victimisation” needed to be addressed.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times